A Jewish mother’s worst nightmare — not that her son is gay and in love with a Muslim, but that he wants to kick her out of the house for good — comes to pass in the bittersweet French dramedy “He Is My Girl.” Jean-Jacques Zilbermann’s sequel to 1997’s “Man Is a Woman” picks up a decade later, with depressive hero Simon Eskenazy (Antoine de Caunes) now a famous clarinetist marred by family, boyfriends and his own musical ambitions. Despite solid thesping, laughs are scarce and scripting innocuous, making for rather bland kugle to be served up in LGBT and Jewish fests.
While the successful “Man Is a Woman” had Simon falling into a marriage with singer Rosalie (Elsa Zylberstein) to please his kvetching family, 10 years later, he has no problem being openly gay in front of his loved ones. The issue now is whether he can find a respectable b.f. to please his ailing mamelah (Judith Magre), who’s been booted out of her nursing home and is holding court in Simon’s designer living room.
Zilbermann and co-scribe Antoine Lacomblez (“Black Out”) set things up sitcom-style, pitting Simon’s sentiments between his mom and two bedroom candidates: David (Micha Lescot), a stable but dullish philosophy teacher, and Naim (Mehdi Dehbi, “The Assassinated Sun”), a sexy, much younger Algerian transvestite who’s a born troublemaker. When Rosalie — who now lives in New York and stars in “Fiddler on the Roof” — pops back into the picture with their 10-year old son in tow, Simon begins feeling the heat on all sides.
Although there’s plenty of room for laughs here, Zilbermann approaches the material with much more sentimentality than sarcasm, including lots of sluggish jokes about the quid pro quo concerning Naim’s gender. Even the explosive mother-son relationship never takes things beyond Simon being called a “schmuck” in front of his guests, while a few shots at Holocaust humor are merely embarrassing.
The filmmaker is more convincing, although rarely funny, when depicting Simon and Naim’s complicated affair, and one is never really sure if Simon sees the young Muslim as a mere boy-toy or something more. Dehbi’s flamboyant but dignified portrayal as Naim suggests vintage Almodovar, and it carries the film along despite a plot that fizzles out by the second act. However, de Caunes (“Mr. Bean’s Holiday”) is unfortunately way too proud and stoical here, and would have been better served with the sort of wry material that made him a TV star in the ’90s.
Overbright lensing by Georges Diane (who shot Zilbermann’s “Bad Spelling”) takes full advantage of the African neighborhood in Paris where Simon lives, although the setting remains merely “colorful” and is never really integrated into the story. Lively Klezmer music by Argentine clarinetist Gioria Fiedman keeps things going at an enjoyable speed.